We’ve reviewed a lot of shoot-em-up games over the years, from first person titles such as Shadowgun, and full-on bullet hell games such as Dodonpachi Maximum and Danmaku Unlimited 2, to little known mash-ups like Space Tripper. In most cases, they don’t look or do anything out of the ordinary, and follow genre conventions closely. However, the title we’re looking at here isn’t like that at all, and bucks several of the established trends. It’s called Sine Mora, and it’s unbelievable.
Right, normally we’d not bother explaining the plot of a shoot-em-up, as if there is one it’s almost always the same – defend planet against invading nasties, or something along those lines. With Sine Mora, there’s a whole mythology surrounding it, and a wealth of characters involved. It’s all to do with time travel and two warring factions, with a father battling to avenge his son’s death after he refused to drop a bomb on his enemies, and so on. The game is interspersed with cut scenes and plenty of dialogue – in Hungarian, with subtitles, believe it or not – to explain the plot, but to be honest, it’s quite confusing, and the best thing to do is treat it as atmosphere, and not think on it too deeply.
Baffling though the plot may be, it does an amazing job of bringing Sine Mora’s world is to life; and what a world it is. Wikipedia describes its style as, “Diesel Punk,” which sounds about right, as it’s part Dark City, part Bioshock, with hardware that looks like it was developed for World War II in bizarro world. It’s absolutely stunning, and every ship – whether its your own convertible plane/submarine or the incredible end of level bosses – is a true work of art. It’s quite simply the best looking shooter we’ve ever seen.
This goes for the graphics too, and the game is breathtaking on both the iPhone 5 and the iPad. There is an option to tweak the detail, and the iPhone 5 was happy with it on high, however the iPad 3 did stutter when it got really busy. It’s worth it for all the floating debris, black smoke clouds and immense amount of laser fire. Oh yes, did we mention this is a bullet hell game?
Unlike most other examples, Sine Mora is a side-scrolling game, but that doesn’t stop the bullets from coming thick and very, very fast. At the height of battle, it’s impossible to avoid the waves of bullets, so it’s lucky you have the option to slow down time. Reminiscent of Bullet Time in Max Payne, and the Awakened mode in Espgaluda II, this helps you navigate your way through the stream of enemy fire, but beware, it soon runs out. In addition to an upgradeable weapons, you’ve also got a smart bomb to use, and this varies depending on the craft you’re flying.
Your progress through the game is affected by a timer, which counts down throughout the level, but can be boosted by destroying enemies. Get hit by bullets or enemy ships, and a chunk of time will disappear. If the timer runs out, you’ll need to use one of the continues to carry on. Collectible power-ups can extend the timer, provide extra firepower and other special items.
So, it’s got a decent if confusing plot, and it looks incredible, but how does it play? The window through which you view the game is very small – it’s like a widescreen ratio movie played on a 4:3 TV – as are all the ships, which does take some getting used to, and is a particular pain when you’re expected to target a tiny spot on an end of level baddie, or wind your way along a tight cave. There is a fantastic game inside Sine Mora on iOS, but it’s let down by this restricted view, and by the virtual joystick control system. It’s just not quite accurate enough for the task, and the game would be vastly improved if a touch-based, relative control system was added as an option.
If you can get to grips with the controls, you’ll enjoy the frantic fun Sine Mora offers, and there’s plenty of replayability thanks to several extra modes, plus anything other than Normal difficulty is insanely hard. It’s not cheap at £3.99, but it is universal for the iPhone and iPad, plus it’s simply stunning to look at, and suspect controls aside, very exciting to play. If you love shoot-em-ups, you’ve got to give Sine Mora a try.